Goseck Henge is believed to be possibly the oldest example of the desire of European Neolithic farmers to measure the heavens to gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them
Ancient astronomy – 7,000 years ago
It all started in 1991 when German officials noticed dark ridges in an aerial photograph of a wheat field 40 miles southwest of Leipzig, Germany. Dark ridges forming a giant circular ridge, confirmed later by a magnetometer survey to be part of a 7,000-year-old circular enclosure, with southeast and southwest gates interestingly aligned.
Global Positioning System data and scientific analysis by archaeologists Peter Biehl and Francois Bertemes in 2002 determined the southeast gate of the ancient enclosure is possibly an entrance way aligned to mark the arrival of the winter solstice (first day of winter) and old man winter. The southwest gate is aligned to the summer solstice (first day of summer) and the coming of warm weather and youthful summer.
“We had just started our archaeology program, and we wanted a place near the university for our students to practice,” says Biehl, formerly a professor at Halle-Wittenberg University and now at Cambridge.”
The evidence collected thus far indicates Goseck Henge is possibly the world’s oldest known solar observatory. The Neolithic farmers of 7,000 years ago in Europe were doing more than tilling the land with basic tools to increase production. They were also watching and measuring the heavens using primitive, yet inventive technology in order to know the best time to plant crops to maximize growing time.
Goseck Henge isn’t unique to the region, archaeologists have excavated hundreds of similar wooden circular enclosures built in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, all dated to a 200-year period around 4,600 B.C.
Except for the difference in size, all have basically the same features. Neolithic farmers dug a narrow ditch around a circular wooden wall, with large gates equally spaced around the outer edge.
Archaeologists for years tried to make sense of the hundreds of 7,000-year-old circular enclosures found dotting the landscape of Neolithic Europe. All created during a period when the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery Culture (STK) dominated Central Europe, which confuses archaeologists.
The Goseck site is helping to provide the answers archaeologist have been searching for after years of painstaking work at the enclosure. Analysis of the site indicates Neolithic farmers probably used the circular enclosure to worship celestial objects and constellations. Celestial objects and constellations they linked to natural events which determined their survival or death.
Archaeologists believe such sites were probably used for much more than just the worship of the Sun, moon or constellations. “This was probably the first monumental architecture in the world,” says Biehl, noting that the sites served as ritual observatories two thousand years before the ancient Egyptians erected pyramids along the Nile.
Since the discovery of Goseck Henge, news media has named the enclosure the “German Stonehenge” and public interest has increased to the point the German state of Saxon-Anhalt decided to make an investment in its past and present.
Today, standing on the original site of Goseck Henge is an authentic reconstruction of the circular enclosure. Composed of over 2,000 oak posts stripped by hand in order to give the site the look and feel of a Neolithic site of 7,000 years ago. European farmers and public gather on the winter solstice every year, to watch a pale winter sun blaze its final rays on the southeastern gate as their ancestors did over 7,000 years ago.
You can learn more about Goseck Henge here.
Read more about Stonehenge here.
Discover the journey of NASA here.